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Kony's killers

International | UGANDA: A rebel group is on the move again in Uganda, and a pair of American missionaries may have been its latest victims

Issue: "Darwin's meltdown," April 3, 2004

ARMED INTRUDERS DRESSED IN military uniforms shot and killed schoolteachers Warren and Donna Pett during an overnight raid on March 18 at the technical school where they worked in Uganda. The killings highlighted not only the elevated danger faced by Americans working overseas but also a little-noticed civil war in northern sectors of Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni is regarded as a key U.S. ally in Africa.

The raid occurred at a school near Yumbe, only miles from Uganda's northwest border with Sudan. The Petts, dairy farmers from Wisconsin, went to work at the school exactly one year ago after a previous tenure with Africa Inland Mission in Nairobi. Both 49 and the parents of three grown children living in the United States, the couple were killed in their home, along with a Ugandan student who, according to sources at the school, was trying to protect them. Several huts in the area were burned. The raiders, who locals said included about seven men dressed in military uniforms, stole money from a female German missionary living at the school.

Several days after the raid, police arrested a suspect, Amin Aruma, a local defense-force officer in his 30s, about 10 miles from the school. District police chief Okot Araa said Mr. Aruma is among seven suspects in the mostly Muslim area. Mr. Aruma left his local defense-force unit without permission on the day of the killings and was found in possession of a gun.

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At the State Department, consular affairs spokesperson Kelly Shannon said U.S. officials in Uganda are cooperating in the investigation. "Local officials are the authorities there. But we certainly are engaged in assisting in any way possible, and ensuring that the investigation is carried out and that the perpetrators are caught."

Indiscriminate killing, robberies, and torched buildings are the hallmarks of the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel unit renowned for drafting locals, particularly children, to its cause. The LRA has abducted at least 20,000 children ages 10-14 in northern Uganda and forced them to serve in its militias. The movement, led by Joseph Kony, allegedly wants to topple the government and install the Ten Commandments as the rule of Uganda. But the LRA and other splinter groups are actually leftover fighters from Uganda's previous wars, including military leaders who served under Idi Amin and his successors. The disaffected army in recent years found sanctuary-and financial support-in Sudan.

Despite ideological differences, the LRA won support from the Islamic government in Khartoum in retaliation for Uganda's support to the Sudanese rebel movement and its leader, John Garang. Khartoum in recent years used the LRA to breed an army drawn from Ugandan villages to attack rebel strongholds in south Sudan. Its abuses against civilians on both sides of the border include kidnappings, summary executions, torture, rape and sexual assault, forced labor, and mutilation. Mr. Kony lives mostly in Sudan, and some say he converted to Islam.

Despite a 1999 agreement between Sudan and Uganda to end support to one another's rebel groups, LRA abductions and killings are continuing. Religious leaders in the area say Khartoum, and until recently al-Qaeda, has supported the LRA with arms and training.

While investigators have not yet concluded that the LRA was behind the attack on the Petts, LRA bands clearly seem to be on the move in the area again. They attacked a camp for internally displaced people near Lira in early March, killed 200 people, and burned down huts. They are also suspected in the death of a park ranger near Murchison Falls, a popular tourist destination.

Other American workers in Uganda say they will continue their work as before. Tom Herskowitz, manager of New Hope Uganda, a ministry running orphanages for LRA victims in central Uganda, said he and others are "aware of the sporadic activity in the north but do not live in fear that it will affect our families or ourselves."

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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